Connection Points for Foreign Rights

As the international rights market continues to shift, so does the center of its gravity. CBA’s international summer convention has been for years a main meeting place for foreign publishers on the lookout for American titles, with the 2018 event in Nashville July 8-11. CBA is also playing a significant role in providing another increasingly important venue—the springtime Marketplace event in Budapest, Hungary.

It’s proving to be an attractive alternative to the more expensive London Book Fair for a growing number of European Christian publishers, with the event’s status further enhanced by CLC Publishing’s move this past year—likely to be repeated in 2018—to piggyback it with its own European leaders’ conference.

“The CBA meeting was truly an important moment for all of our CLC countries,” says CLC European Director Gary Chamberlin. “For most of them it was the first time they had actually met the various reps of the U.S. publishers,” he says, “and as we know, relationships are key.”

That face-to-face connection remains an important element of rights work, even as technology makes it much easier to let prospective foreign publishers know what is available. “With the internet it is now much easier to understand which books are coming onto the market and when,” says Chamberlin, “whereas before, publishers often had to wait until the Frankfurt Book Fair to know which new titles were coming onto the market.”

While the fall Frankfurt show remains another important date in the international rights calendars—as does the Spanish-market Expolit—several U.S. publisher representatives also visit Brazil annually for an informal mini-rights fair.

Interest in international rights has grown steadily among U.S. publishers over the past couple of decades; there are now around 50 members of LSRA. Yet, as one of the group’s founders, rights expert Cindy Riggins believes that “a lot of companies still underestimate the value of international rights both from revenue and ministry perspectives.”

Rights reps point out that some of the licensing agreements they make with small publishers overseas may not seem to be very big, but rights dollars and U.S. sales dollars are apples and oranges.

“You have to look at it differently,” points out Baker Publishing Group Director of Rights and Contracts Marilyn Gordon. “We don’t have a warehouse, we are not printing books.” One publisher calculates the true value of its licensing dollars, after accounting for royalty payments, by multiplying by eight.

International Rights Extend Worldwide Ministry Outreach

While the financial returns can be good, they are not the only motivation. Fred Rudy, rights specialist and founder of F.J. Rudy and Associates, speaks of how publishers embrace the “ministry outreach dimension” of their work, looking “to be part of what God is doing worldwide through literature and to help support and encourage that in any way they can.”

At HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Director of Licensing & Subsidiary Rights Rob Downs says he “looks at each possible language market as an opportunity, for growth, expansion of an authors’ ministry, and, yes, for revenue.”

Even with an American publisher keen to help make foreign editions as reasonable as possible, international publishers are often taking a risk when they license a title.

In addition to any rights fee, there are costs of translation, editorial work if some of the English references need to be revised to make them more culturally appropriate, and then printing. When that is all invested in what may be a print run of just a couple of thousand that it may take a couple of years or more to sell through, there is little room for error.

“Negotiations for rights can be difficult and a bit tricky for countries where a small print run is necessary, such as Poland and Bulgaria,” says CLC European Director Gary Chamberlin. “So when a rep or a publisher is flexible, it is highly appreciated since, in reality, it is a partnership in order to get a title in to print.”

Success can bring its own challenges, according to Herjeczki. “After five years, if we want to keep the book available with even a small print run or print-on-demand system, we are sometimes asked for a renewal of the contract with such high advance that we know for sure we will never reach. It actually works against the author, as we sometimes allow to go the book out of print.”

All this can be further motivation for foreign publishers to develop more of their own authors, though that isn’t easy either. “It’s more demanding editorially to work with an author to produce a really good title,” notes Harmat’s founder and general manager, Kornél Herjeczki, and in countries with small Christian-book-buying communities, “even the gifted writers cannot afford to be professional authors, so they work full-time and write during their free time.”

For rights specialists tracking the many factors affecting different parts of the world, from population and politics to inflation and church history, “we get to travel around the world every day by email,” Rudy says of their role. “There’s a sense of contributing to what God is doing worldwide that is very satisfying.”

—Andy Butcher

Read more about Christian product rights in our second issue of the bi-annual Global MARKET International News & Trends report.